THE EYE FISH
A small white fish lives in the sea off the northern coast that has just one eye, an eye so large it takes up nearly the whole of the fish's body. The fish is seen as a bad omen, and when a fisherman takes one he destroys both the fish and the net that caught it.
The larval offspring of the fish are eyeless and slender, almost microscopic. They swim in the shallows and when the opportunity comes they slide under the eyelids of careless swimmers, or sailors who have fallen overboard. They are almost always unnoticed. They wriggle to the back of the socket and attach themselves to the blood vessels that feed the eye and to the base of the optic nerve. For months or years, until the event is forgotten, the little translucent slip remains deep behind the eye. The bearer will one day notice a strange pressure—a pressure that suddenly seems as if it has always been there—and perhaps a slight cloud in his vision. The fish then grows very quickly, consuming the bearer's eye, which may become milky or wandering. In a short time, the eyelids swell and close over the eye, which remains sealed for a week or more. Then the swelling subsides and the eye appears restored, but it is the fish's eye and not the bearer's. The fish remains attached to the nerves and vessels of the eye socket, and the fish's eye takes on the color of the original, so the change is unnoticed.
Villagers and sailors who bear such an eye are not at first impaired in their daily lives. They do their work and attend to their families as easily as before. In fact, it is not uncommon to hear one remark that, since the strange disease has passed, his vision seems sharper than before, that the light is clearer, that he sees things more vividly and with greater detail. Such people seek out things to see with their new vision, wandering about the village at odd times looking at the texture of stone walls, or ranging the surrounding woods to look at leaves and bark. They will stand for hours, absorbed in the colors of grass, running grains of soil through their fingers to watch them fall. They may develop an appetite for strange foods, cardamom or strong cheeses, or even insects pried from under the cobblestones in the marketplace.
Eventually they wander away from the village for miles and days, always inland, always away from the shore. They may be gone for weeks or months at a time and when they return, it is impossible to tell whether they know their old friends, or recognize their homes and families. They hurry about restlessly and pass quickly, the eye darting like a nervous insect.
Those left behind—the wives and mothers, the children—learn to stop waiting for their return. They turn to other work and other lives. They don't bathe in the sea. If a sailor falls overboard he washes his eyes with vinegar to avoid his father's fate.
Most of the wanderers are indeed men, although sometimes a young woman will leave her husband and children and house and fields to wander away over the hills. When they no longer come into the village they are still seen sometimes lurking in the woods, or crouched under haystacks.
Each spring, they return to the coast, called perhaps by the tide. Men and women both, they stand on the rocks in the full moon. Naked, or dressed in rags, they weep, and their tears fall into the sea below. The villagers remain inside on these nights. They have not lost hope, they say, for there was never any hope to begin with. Things will pass as they will pass, they say, and the houses are brightly lit, deep into the night. But there are always some who steal out to catch a glimpse of a child or a lost lover. Not with hope, no, but perhaps a kind of reverence, a silent, distant veneration. It goes on for years sometimes, with those who wander shadowed by those left behind.
The village endures as the sea endures. Finally the wanderer leaps into the water and swims out of sight. It is always at night, always in the spring. Names are carved in the stones of the shore. When the bodies are found, if they are found, there are no eyes in the skull, and no one is surprised by this. Everyone who lives by the sea knows the eyes are the softest part of the being, the part most easily taken by the water.
I don't know what this piece means. It sprang up fully formed, not as an idea, but as a feeling about an idea, and it took several tries to get the words to approximate the feeling. It's part of a larger work-in-progress—a kind of postmodern bestiary full of creatures that don't really exist, but probably should.